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Why Do You Need an Instructor?

What to Look for in an Instructor

Does Your Instructor Need to Have Survived a Gunfight?

The Square Range and Other Limitations

Private vs. Group Instruction

"Can You Recommend an Instructor Here in East Podunk?"

  • Dustin Salomon's 2016 book Building Shooters is subtitled Applying Neuroscience Research to Tactical System Training Design and Training Delivery. The latter part of the book is mostly oriented toward restructuring firearms training as it is conducted in a relatively extended academy setting.
  • Most people reading this will be taking training in the private sector - typically on a condensed time frame of one day to four or five days - where some of the proposed training model would not apply. This difference will be most crucial for those who will be developing the basic skills and what follows is intended to help overcome the contradiction.
  • First, the simplified model of how learning takes place and gets "cemented" or consolidated:
    • New information or skills are recorded in short-term memory, which is similar to the RAM (Random Access Memory) in your computer. However, even recording in short-term memory requires that the new material get past the brain's unconscious "filtering" of all the stimuli to which it is subjected. One factor influencing retention in short-term memory is that there is a limit to how much information can be retained without new information replacing earlier information.
    • In order for learned information or skills to be retained, they must be consolidated into long-term memory. For our purposes, long-term memory is divided into procedural memory - where physical skills that don't require conscious thought are stored - and declarative memory - where information (data) and physical skills that do require conscious thought are stored. The real challenge is consolidating long-term procedural memory. Consolidation can be impaired or enhanced by different factors:
      • Fear or stress will generally impair consolidation into long-term memory.
      • Presentation of too much material per session - particularly alternative or conflicting techniques - will impair consolidation into long-term memory.
      • "Priming" - careful exposure before the training session - will improve consolidation into long-term memory.
      • "Off-line time" - both awake and asleep - will improve consolidation into long-term memory.
      • With a normal sleep schedule, teaching the crucial material in the afternoon will improve consolidation into long-term memory.
  • So here's the take-home message: If the instructor with whom you will train can recommend some reading material, preferably illustrated, you can prepare in advance for at least some of the skills that will be taught in the course.
    • Pick one or two skills, such as proper grasp of the gun and sight alignment/sight picture, and practice them safely, in dry-fire mode, in the afternoon or early evening.
    • Review those skills the following day, then add one or two more, such as trigger manipulation and stance.
    • I'm not really a video fan but I imagine that the same thing can be done with an instructional video but that it would work better viewing it only through each skill being prepped that day.
  • Building on the work of Salomon and many others - particularly neuroscientists - and with the insight of dealing with his own neurological issues - Mike Ochsner synthesized a system that is oriented primarily toward home study.
  • "Ox" bases his system on a series of dry-fire drills, with the optional inclusion of Airsoft or pellet guns, done just a few minutes a day. It is designed for both faster and more lasting consolidation of the procedural learning.
  • Ox recognizes the role of traditional "block-and-silo" training in learning the fundamentals of safe gun handling and basic operation but encourages only a small amount of live fire, to confirm that the dry fire is being conducted correctly.
  • Will most readers of his book Real World Gunfight Training take it all the way to scoring hits while running laterally?
  • Issues of age and physical condition aside, how far a reader chooses to take it may depend on threat assessment:
    • Those expecting the sort of dumb crook that Tom Givens describes in most of his students' shooting incidents in Memphis - single assailants who made their intentions known at distances around five yards, allowing a conventional draw to the two-handed, flat-footed shooting position that they learned in their basic concealed-carry course - may not choose to push the envelope all the way.
    • Those who've seen photos or videos of the vehicle-mobile, multi-assailant carjackings that have come into vogue in Chicago may welcome the encouragement to push it that far.
    • Either way - particularly in light of the low price of the book - the concentration on dry fire alone makes the system attractive in these times of ammunition scarcity.
  • Even without these insights, when I offered live training, I noticed that students who had read my book before the course seemed to absorb the skills taught on the range much more readily.
  • Additionally, during the last years that I offered live training, I "issued" each student an inexpensive 3" x 5" spiral notebook. On each break between the exercises on the range, I had them sit down and write notes on what they'd just learned, so that they could practice the techniques on their own, at later times. Subsequent studies have claimed that taking handwritten notes enhances at least declarative learning. I can't prove it, at this point, but I like to think that it may also enhance procedural learning.
  • For comparison, check out this article on how Desirable Difficulties in Training Improve Skill Retention.

  • An instructor can teach no faster than the slowest student in the course can learn. Thus, an ethical instructor who may intend to teach at 45 rpm and is confronted with a 33 rpm student can either teach at 33 rpm or refund that student's tuition and continue to teach the remaining students at 45 rpm.
  • On the other hand, if you have an instructor who appears to have his program geared for 33 rpm, you will likely create problems, possibly including safety issues, if you - as a student - try to push the speed up to 45 rpm, on your own initiative. There's probably a good reason that an experienced instructor is pacing the course at 33 rpm.
  • (For those too young to understand the "rpm" comparison, back when music used to be sold on vinyl records, "singles" - such as played in juke boxes - were recorded and played at 45 rpm while "long-playing albums" were recorded and played at 33 rpm.)

  • While such incidents are rare, there are occasional reports of gunshot injuries in training. In the private sector, these seem to occur most commonly when "live" guns are handled inside the classroom. (In the law-enforcement sector, these seem to occur most commonly during cleaning of pistols that require a press of the trigger for disassembly or while reholstering during range exercises.)
  • While many instructors will make a statement that safety is everyone's responsibility and that anyone can and should call a cease-fire on the range if an unsafe condition is observed, such philosophy is not always present inside the classroom. I encourage you to familiarize yourself with The Rules of firearm safety, if you have not already ingrained them. Be particularly watchful for the following violations inside the classroom:
    • Any handling of real firearms that does not keep the muzzle pointed at a reliable backstop, such as a brick wall or some sort of Kevlar safety pad;
    • Any handling of firearms while students are seated or standing in rows behind one another; arrayed in a circle, square or U; or while facing the instructor;
    • Loading and unloading drills using live ammunition instead of dummy rounds;
    • Role-play activity with anything other than dummy guns;
    • Role-play activity with Airsoft replica firearms or firearms modified to fire only "marking" training rounds (e.g., Simunition) without adequate protective gear, including eye protection.
  • If an instructor violates The Rules himself, asks students to violate The Rules or fails to take adequate steps to curtail repeated Rules violations by students, you should give serious thought to requesting a refund and leaving the course. Even if the instructor refuses to issue a refund, that loss may be worth not having your name appear in local media as the student who got shot during a firearm safety course.

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